Nikolay Alekseyevich Nekrasov

(1821 - 1878 / Russia)

Thoughts At A Vestibule


Here's a vestibule. On holidays
Overcome by slavish fear,
The whole population, in a state of awe,
Rushes to the sacred doors.
Having left their names and ranks.
All these visitors return then to their homes
They are all so deeply satisfied
You might think this was their calling!
Yet on other days this ornate vestibule
Is beset by much more wretched sorts:
Schemers and position-seekers,
By a widow and an aged man.
To and fro each morning without cease
Couriers bustle with their papers.
Some returning seekers whistle a tune
While some others walk and weep.
Once I saw some peasants who stopped by,
Simple Russian villagers.
Having crossed themselves they stood aside
And they hung their flaxen heads.
Then up came a doorman.-"Let us in," they said
With a look of torment and of hope.
He surveyed the visitors: how ugly they all looked.
Sunburned hands and faces
Threadbare coats upon their backs,
On bent shoulders knapsacks,
Crosses round the neck and bloodied feet
Shod in hand-made bast
(Must have come from far away,
From some far-flung province).
Someone yelled out to the doorman: "Send them off!
Our boss doesn't care for ragged mobs!"
And the door was shut. In time
They untied their bags
But the doorman spurned their meager offerings
And they walked off through the burning sun,
Saying: God will be the judge!
With their arms thrown wide in consternation,
I observed them 'til they disappeared,
And they never donned their caps.

While the owner of this lavish palace
Was still nestled in deep sleep's embrace . . .
You who think so highly of a life
Full of thrilling, shameless flattery,
Gluttony, philandering and play,
Wake now! There's a greater pleasure:
Call them back. For you are their salvation!
But the sated are to goodness deaf.

Heavenly thunder doesn't frighten you,
Earthly thunders you hold in your hands
That is why these unknown men must carry
Grief disconsolate within their hearts.

But what does this desperate sorrow mean to you?
What do you care for these desperate folk?
A life racing by in endless holidays
Keeps you from awakening.
And why care? For you the people's good
Is an idle game for scribblers;
You will live a glorious life without it
And you'll die a glorious death!
Your declining days will pass
Peacefully like some Arcadian idyll:
Under Sicily's charming skies,
In the fragrant shade of trees,
Contemplating crimson suns
As they sink into the azure sea
Casting shining rays of gold,-
Lulled by the soft melody
Of Tyrrhenean waves-just like a child
You will slumber, satisfied in every need
By your dear and loving family
(Who await your death impatiently);
Your remains they'll transport back to us
To reward them with a funeral feast.
Like a hero you'll be lowered to the grave,
By your homeland silently cursed,
Glorified by boisterous praise! . . .

Still, why bother such a personage
With the pains of trivial folk?
Rage at them instead-a great idea!
It's less dangerous. . . and more amusing,
Find ourselves some kind of solace . . .
What a peasant bears is no big deal:
It's what fate that guides us
Has decreed . . . And anyway, he's used to it!
In some lowly inn outside the city gates,
These poor men will drink their final rubles down
And then head for home, begging all the way,
Moaning humbly . . . O my homeland!
Tell me now of some abode-
I have surely never seen it-
Where your sower and your guardian,
The meek Russian peasant, does not moan?
In the fields he moans, and on the roads,
In the prisons and stockades he moans,
And in ore mines, wearing iron chains;
Moans burst out from barns and stacks of hay,
And from carts where he sleeps in the steppe;
In his own poor hut he moans,
Warmed by nothing on God's earth;
In each godforsaken town he moans,
In the vestibules of courts and palaces as well.
Go out to the Volga: hear whose moan
Rises over Russia's greatest river?
In our land, this moan is called a song-
It's the boatmen straining in their traces! . .
Volga! Volga! In the spring your torrents
Cannot flood the fields as much
As our people's awful pain
Floods our land-
Where you are there's moaning-O, my people!
What can all this endless moaning mean?
Will you ever waken, filled with strength,
Or, obeying fate's command,
Have you done all that you can,
Fashioning a song so like a moan,
While your soul remains forever mired in sleep?..

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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